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Newsmaker: Andrew Card

October 4, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT

JIM LEHRER: And now to a Newsmaker interview with White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card. I talked with him this afternoon from the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Card, welcome.

ANDREW CARD: Good to be with you, Jim. Thank you very much.

JIM LEHRER: What’s the latest information that the U.S. Government has on this Russian airliner that blew up over the Black Sea today?

ANDREW CARD: Well, we’re still waiting to learn more, but it appears that the Ukrainians did have some kind of missile exercise that might have hit this commercial aircraft. But we’re waiting for a lot more information to come in.

JIM LEHRER: President Putin, as I’m sure you know, the president of Russia, said that he believes it’s possible this was a terrorist attack. But we don’t think so; the United States doesn’t think so?

ANDREW CARD: Well, again, we need more information. I think we should be careful and let more information come in, but it clearly was a horrible thing that happened to the civilians who were on that aircraft.

JIM LEHRER: But is this kind of going to be our way of life for the foreseeable future, Mr. Card? I mean, yesterday it was a Greyhound bus; today it’s an airplane. Everybody immediately thinks, oh, my goodness, another terrorist attack by the people involved in the September 11th attack.

ANDREW CARD: Well, I do think America is unusually vigilant, and that means that we are also maybe a little more paranoid than we have to be. But we’re going to be very careful. You know, the president has said what happened on September 11th changes things. And we want to rout all of these terrorists out from wherever they are in the world.

We want to make sure that there are no nations that harbor terrorists, and that terrorism disappears. It’s going to be a tremendous battle for us to go through, and this will be a long war. But the president is calling for every civilized nation and all civilized people to work together to help rid the world of terrorism. And it’s not going to be easy, but we want to bring calm and comfort back to America, and the president will work hard to do that. But in the meantime we do have to be very vigilant.

JIM LEHRER: You know, some of the people are suggesting that the Bush Administration is putting out mixed signals on this. You have Secretary of the HHS — Tommy Thompson saying, well, we don’t… from biological warfare – we’re all ready for that, but Attorney General Ashcroft says we might still be – there might still be terrorists out in the United States who might attack us, and other people say, go out and fly, go out into the malls and shop. What is the message in the shortest terms? What is the message that you and the president want the American people to have at this moment?

ANDREW CARD: Well, we do not want terrorism to handcuff America. And so we all have to get about our business and try to go about our life, but being more vigilant than we were in the past, be very careful. The government is doing everything it can to make the skies as safe as possible. We’re working with local officials, government officials from all levels of government to try to make sure that we live up to the expectations to protect America, but we do have to be careful.

I think Secretary Thompson and the Attorney General were both right. The Attorney General has been listening to the FBI and working with the FBI to understand what potential threats may be in America, and the Secretary of Health and Human Services is making sure that we have the ability to respond should there be a horrible act. But the government is working well.

The communications between the government agencies has never been better, and I think we are being very vigilant as a government, and we’re asking for the American people to be vigilant, but to go about their business to the extent they can in a normal way.

JIM LEHRER: You mentioned the war on terrorism that the president has launched, and he sent Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to four nations; in fact, he’s there now – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Uzbekistan. What is it – are those countries not fully on board with us in this war, is that the problem?

ANDREW CARD: Oh, no, actually we have had great cooperation from most of the responsible countries around the world, and what Secretary Rumsfeld is doing is very similar to what then Secretary Dick Cheney did. I think this is a demonstration to our coalition partners that we are appreciative of their role with us, and that we look forward to working closely with them. So this is really talking to our closest allies in the region, thanking them for the support that they’re offering, and demonstrating our resolve, and sharing that resolve with them to get them to reflect the same resolve.

JIM LEHRER: What would you say to any Americans who are getting impatient that there hasn’t been any military action yet after September 11th?

ANDREW CARD: Well, the president said this would be a different kind of war, and the first salvo of this war was actually fired in the financial community when we started working with friends and allies around the world to take bank accounts that we knew terrorists were using and freezing those assets, so we’ve actually started this war on a very different front.

It wasn’t a front where the military took action. It was where bankers took action and governments took action. We’ve also been working closely with our allies to help arrest people and detain people who are connected with terrorist organizations, and we’ve had unprecedented cooperation around the world in bringing in potential problems to understand what might be going on and to detain and arrest terrorists. But we’ve actually done an awful lot already.

JIM LEHRER: But there’s still much more to come.

ANDREW CARD: This is going to be a long battle. The president has said this is a war that will go on for some time – that will be fought on many different fronts. Many of those fronts won’t – will not be traditional. This is not about attacking a beachhead or going after a capital; this is about routing out terrorists wherever they are and making sure that the world can be a safer place for all people.

JIM LEHRER: White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer has drawn some flack for criticizing comments made by a humorist on television, and he said people should watch what they say right now. Do you agree with that?

ANDREW CARD: Well, you know, I’m a big believer in free speech, so one of those things that makes America such a wonderful country is that we have a Constitution that gives us all kinds of rights and freedoms, and I encourage people to exercise those rights and freedoms, but I’d like to see them do it responsibly. I’m also very patriotic, and I applaud those people in America who are true patriots and standing up for their government, but I also respect those who are exercising their patriotism through exercising free speech.

JIM LEHRER: So what was Ari Fleischer trying to get at?

ANDREW CARD: Well, you know, lots of people have different opinions. I think Ari does a great job as the press spokesman for the President, but he is also one who has exercised free speech regularly, and he did it in that particular occasion.

JIM LEHRER: How difficult was it for the president yesterday to concede that in stimulating the economy we may have to return – or will have to return to deficit spending?

ANDREW CARD: Well, the president said when he was running for the presidency – I think he did it in Chicago as a candidate – that he did not support deficit spending, with the exception of a recession, war, or national emergency. We have had all three of those things happen at the same time.

Our economy was anemic; we had a national emergency; and we have been put into a state of war. And the president is going to do all he can to make sure first of all America is defended, secondly, that we can restore some sense of confidence in our economy and get people working again and make sure that the great strength of America’s economy shows up not only here but around the world and employs people here and around the world, and then he said that we want to respond to this national emergency by helping to rebuild New York. So I think that he is appropriately reflecting priorities that puts America first.

JIM LEHRER: There was an announcement today about $3 billion for workers who lost their jobs as a result of the September 11th attack. What workers will be entitled to this money?

ANDREW CARD: Well, the president announced that he would be supporting a number of initiatives to help displaced or dislocated workers. The first – he will exercise authority to extend unemployment benefit opportunities so that there would be a total of 39 months when people could be eligible for unemployment.

He also said that he would provide $3 billion of national grants to states where they could provide cash to families who are in need of financial assistance, maybe helping with insurance payments so that they continue with their health insurance, and he also said that he would look to create more opportunities under the Department of Health and Human Services for health care programs for families that are not able to get health care.

This is a preexisting program, and there are some $11 billion of resources available in that program that were there prior to September 10th, and he wants to make sure that the states understand that those resources are there and should be used.

JIM LEHRER: Will airline workers who have been laid off as a result of the September 11th attacks be eligible under this program?

ANDREW CARD: Any worker who is displaced under this program qualifies for unemployment insurance and they would be eligible for it, and we also are working with Congress on an economic stimulus package that might provide other benefits for displaced workers.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. Is it true – the reports today that the president is now reluctantly willing to accept full federalization of airport security?

ANDREW CARD: Well, we’re working with Congress to make sure that our airlines are safe. The president very quickly increased safety standards in all of the airports and airlines. He – as you know – opened up Reagan Airport today. It was opened and flights started flying.

But we’re working with Congress on a comprehensive package of airline security measures; they’re going to be passed and included in that would be some call for federal standards among airport employees. And we’ll be working with Congress.

The president has said what his principles were — that great sausage machine on Capitol Hill is working through right now to make the sausage and we’ll be working with them; and we have. I think there’s been great cooperation between the two branches, as well as, I’m going to say, among Republicans and Democrats.


ANDREW CARD: We’re close to an agreement.

JIM LEHRER: The Senate Majority Leader, Tom Daschle, said today that he had the impression that President Bush would not veto legislation if it, in fact, did federalize the entire operations at the major airports, is that correct?

ANDREW CARD: We are not looking to veto legislation that calls for greater airline security, but we do want to make sure that the legislation that comes out of Congress reflects kind of a consensus view of Congress.

We’ve been working hand in hand with Republicans and Democrats to make sure that the divisiveness of the past is gone, and this president has worked very, very closely with the Republican leaders in the House and the Senate, and Democratic leaders in the House and in the Senate. In fact, they have breakfast kind of every Tuesday or lunch every Tuesday to talk about the issues that are coming up.

JIM LEHRER: As a practical matter, picking up on that, has this crisis, have these attacks and the response required to them pretty much eliminated some of the traditional arguments between liberals and conservatives and liberals who would think one thing on one thing and conservatives on another – are finding themselves more in agreement than usual?

ANDREW CARD: Well, I think we’re responding to a horrible attack on America, and Americans are Americans first. They may be conservatives or liberals, but they’re conservatives or liberals second. They’re Americans first. And I’m pleased with the way all of our leaders have risen to the occasion and met the responsibilities to demonstrate to the world that we are united as Americans in fighting terrorism.

And this president has provided great leadership that brings people together to that cause. But that doesn’t mean that people are abandoning their philosophical views or their – I’m going to say partisan reflections. But right now we’re working together to the extent that we can to make sure that we have a good response to fight terrorism around the world, bring our economy back up as quickly as we can so that people do have jobs, and we are the leading economy in the world, and making sure that we overcome the problems of this terrific accident or not accident, this tragedy, and rebuild New York.

And that’s what we’ll be working together on. But we’ll still have arguments about some of the issues that Congress will have to debate, but that’s what makes America such a terrific country.

JIM LEHRER: Finally, Mr. Card, there’s probably few people in the government who see the president more than you do on a daily basis. How’s he – how’s he bearing up under what must be an enormous strain since September 11th – I mean just in a personal way?

ANDREW CARD: Well, he is just a remarkable man. He is a great leader. He’s had the ability to listen to his advisers, making very decisive decisions in a timely way so that they have been implemented and carried out responsibly. He’s also taking care of himself. He is someone who’s practicing his faith – he exercises almost every single day – he is attentive to his personal well being in terms of eating well. His mental capacity is outstanding.

His intellectual capacity is exceeding all expectations, and I tell you, I’m so proud to be working with him, and Americans can be very proud that he’s the president, and the rest of the world is appreciative of the leadership that he has brought.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Card, thank you very much.

ANDREW CARD: Thank you.